Precinct 333

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Am I The Only One Not Troubled?

I hope not, and I suspect not.

We were told that lethal injection was humane and painless. Fine, I thought at the time, if that would deal with the issue of "humane treatment" for those squeamish about the administration of the appropriate penalty for some crimes, that is fine. Now it turns out that this method of execution may not be quite as painless as it was billed. I find myself singularly unmoved with compassion towards the condemned.

As many as four of every 10 prisoners put to death in the United States might receive inadequate anesthesia, causing them to remain conscious and experience blistering pain during a lethal injection.

Researchers in Florida and Virginia drew this conclusion after reviewing levels of anesthetic in the blood of 49 inmates after they were executed.

"I approached this as a physician," said the study's lead author, Dr. Leonidas Koniaris, chairman of surgical oncology at the University of Miami. "We were asking: Is there a possibility of awareness during an execution? Is there a large degree of pain and suffering associated with it? And I think the answer we found is yes."

Of the inmates studied in a report published by the British journal The Lancet, 43 percent had concentrations of anesthetic in their blood — as measured by medical examiners during autopsies — that would indicate consciousness rather than sedation during an execution.

Koniaris, who says he does not oppose the death penalty, thinks the study warrants a moratorium on executions until a publicly appointed panel can review whether some inmates remain conscious during lethal injection.

"If that's the case, as a society we need to step back and ask whether we want to torture these people or not," he said.

And I have to be honest – I don’t give a rat’s ass if they feel pain or not. I had no moral qualms about the gas chamber or the electric chair, and wouldn’t mind if the hangman’s noose or the firing squad were reintroduced. Hell, I would have no moral qualms about coating pedophiles and rapists with honey and staking them out over fire ant hills. While I’m not a native Texan, I have to agree with those who hold to the philosophy that “some folks just need killin’.” Generally speaking, though, I’m open to discussion about the method. And I am willing to discuss alternatives to the death penalty --life without parole beling the minimum.

But frankly, I have to disagree with the editorial from the Lancet that is quoted in the story.

The implications of an ineffective anesthetic are, in the words of a Lancet editorial accompanying the article, troubling: "It would be a cruel way to die: awake, paralyzed, unable to move, to breathe, while potassium burned through your veins."

And I should be morally outraged because…?

I mean, it’s not like these folks gave a whole lot of concern for the mental and physical anguish they inflicted upon their victims. You know, the raped and killed little girl after being abducted from her bed. The adolescent boy killed after being sodomized by a couple of NAMBLA members. The wife beaten to death by her abusive husband. The family murdered by robbers looking for a couple of bucks. I guess I don’t have any more compassion for the killers than they did for their victims. Let them feel the utter helplessness and pain that they were more than willing to allow another human being to experience.

And then there is this gem from one of the study’s authors.

"It's now up to the corrections systems to show that, at the time of death, inmates are asleep. We should accept no less when we're killing people."

I disagree.

We should accept nothing less than their being fully conscious.

Let them feel every last bit of society's outrage and retribution for their crimes.

Let them be aware of their punishment.

And let them understand, in their last moments, what their victims may have felt.


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